Dr Mark Rosenthal

MD MB ChB FRCP FRCPCH BSc

Consultant in Paediatric Respiratory Medicine

also specialist in Food Allergies & Disorders of Sleep

A | A | A

T: 0207 351 8832

E: s.harvey@rbht.nhs.uk

A:The Royal Brompton Hospital, London, SW3 6NP

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Occasional nightmares are very common, usually starting after age 3 years. Although they aren’t usually signs of serious sleep disorders in children, it is important to check for any underlying causes and help your child to feel safe and secure.

Nightmares in children

Finding Out the Cause of Nightmares

Sleep disorders in children can sometimes be linked to issues in their waking lives. If they can tell you what their dreams were about, it could provide clues as to the cause. Recurring dreams often reflect our worries. Common triggers for nightmares include:

  • Problems at school
  • Concerns about a family member’s health
  • Traumatic experiences in the past
  • Scary stories on the news
  • Reading or watching inappropriate or frightening stories

If you can identify a specific cause for your child’s nightmares, it could help you to find a solution. There might be a practical way you can help, such as talking to your child’s teachers about their schoolwork. You could also help by listening to and reassuring your child, or arranging counselling if necessary.

Helping Children with Nightmares

Sometimes there is no obvious cause for sleep disorders in children. In most cases, children will grow out of it, but there are a few things you can do to help them sleep better:

  • Use a nightlight or leave the light on outside your child’s bedroom door
  • Spend some time in the dark together so that they feel less afraid
  • Give them a comfort blanket or soft toy to take to bed
  • Try checking under the bed or scaring away the monsters together as part of the bedtime routine
  • Promise to check on your child during the night and leave a note or another sign so they know you kept your word

Hopefully, the nightmares will soon pass and your child will feel calmer and more secure when he or she wakes at night. However, if you are still concerned it could help to talk to a sleep expert.

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